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Wikipedia Description: Robert E. Lee Monument (Richmond, Virginia)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia, was the first installation on Monument Avenue in 1890. Honoring Civil War General Robert E. Lee, it was the largest monument on the site for over a century, and remains the last Confederate monument on the Avenue today. The monument includes General Lee sitting on his horse atop a large marble base that stands over 60 feet tall. Constructed in France by Antonin Mercié and shipped to Virginia, the statue remains one of Mercié's most outstanding pieces. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007 and the Virginia Landmarks Register since 2006.
As the last Confederate monument on Monument Avenue, the statue is a source of controversy. After the murder of George Floyd, the monument was covered in graffiti, and many activists have called for its removal. Ralph Northam, the Governor of Virginia, ordered the statue removed on June 4, 2020, but a state court blocked its removal pending the outcome of a lawsuit. The state court ultimately ruled in Northam's favor in October 2020, but the decision was put on hold pending appeal. The Supreme Court of Virginia heard oral arguments on June 8, 2021. The Justices did not ask any questions during the oral argument. On September 2, 2021, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that restrictive covenants from 1887 and 1890, that transferred the statue to the state, were no longer enforceable; consequently, the statue could be removed by the state.
Description and location
The bronze statue, sculpted by Antonin Mercié, depicts Confederate general Robert E. Lee atop a horse. The horse is not a representation of Robert E. Lee's horse Traveller, whose modest scale Mercié believed would not suit the overall composition. Traveller was replaced by a stronger looking thoroughbred. Lee stands 14 feet (4.3 m) high atop his horse and the entire statue is 60 feet (18 m) tall including a stone base designed by Paul Pujol. A time capsule was embedded in the base pedestal when the monument was first erected.
The state-controlled land around the statue serves as a traffic circle at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Allen Avenue (named after Otway Allen, the developer who donated the land to the association). The Lee Monument is a focal point for Richmond. (Most popular online maps depict the "Lee Circle" as the center of Richmond).
Throughout the war, many American Southerners viewed Lee as a war hero and a master strategist. Following the death of Robert E. Lee in 1870, several organizations were formed with the goal of erecting a monument to Lee in Richmond. These included survivors of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, the Lee Monument Association led by Confederate general Jubal Early, and the Ladies' Lee Monument Association. These organizations were merged into the Lee Monument Commission in 1886, led by Lee's nephew and Virginia governor Fitzhugh Lee and together the funds combined to $52,000.
The Sculptor: Antonin Mercié
Antonin Mercié, born on October 30, 1845 in Toulouse, was an artist and sculptor known for his works in France before his Robert E. Lee Memorial earned him a reputation in the United States. He was a student under François Jouffroy and Alexandre Falguière, and he became a member of the Institut des Beaux-Arts as well as president of the Société des Artistes Français and Grand Officier de la Légion d'Honneur. His style is known for being "soberly realistic." Mercié won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1868 and awards such as an honorary medal at the "Salon des Moins de 30 Ans".
Although famous for his works in Paris, Mercié devoted particular attention to the construction of the Robert E. Lee Monument. Mercié constructed the monument in France and had it shipped to America. He constructed the monument in sections, which were sent to America in four separate shipping crates. Mercié wished to watch the unveiling of the monument, but due to stress from a previous ocean voyage, he stayed in France. After the unveiling of the monument, Mercié earned other commissions from the United States, including a monument representing Francis Scott Key and the creation of the American National Anthem in Baltimore, Maryland. Mercié dreamed of seeing the unveiling of the Key monument, but was reportedly unable to attend due to a domestic situation with his wife.
Construction and dedication
When the construction of the monument was complete, the Lee Monument Association of Virginia sent a representative to France to inspect the work and issue the final payment of $20,000. The journalist Lida McCabe reported on the transaction between the American businessman and the French sculptor, observing that the transaction was forced and uneasy. The Monument Association representative seemed to have little interest in the monument itself and simply occupied himself with his financial duties. McCabe's reporting focused on the dedication that Mercié put into the sculpture. After listening to Mercié, McCabe discovered that he had researched the Civil War and General Lee extensively. McCabe reported that had acquired different props such as saddles and stirrups, coats, and boots to make sure that the monument was as accurate as possible.
The cornerstone for the monument was placed on October 27, 1887. The statue arrived in Richmond by rail on May 4, 1890. Newspaper accounts indicate that 10,000 people helped pull four wagons with the pieces of the monument. The completed statue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. Two of Lee's daughters, Mary Custis Lee and Mildred Childe Lee, attended the dedication.
The site for the statue originally was offered in 1886. Richmond City annexed the land in 1892, but economic difficulties meant that the Lee Monument stood alone for several years in the middle of a tobacco field before development resumed in the early 1900s.
In 1992, the iron fence around the monument was removed, in part because drivers unfamiliar with traffic circles would run into the fence from time to time and force costly repairs. After the fences came down, the stone base became a popular sunbathing spot. In December 2006, the state completed an extensive cleaning and repair of the monument.
It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007, the Virginia Landmarks Register since 2006, and is located in the Monument Avenue Historic District.
Controversy and calls for removal
Historians have offered a range of opinions on the monument, often pointing out its problematic perpetuation of the Lost Cause mythology.
In August 2017, after the violence that occurred at the Unite the Right rally, protestors called for the removal of the Lee statue in Charlottesville and Richmond. On June 4, 2020, Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced that the Richmond statue would be removed in response to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. On June 8, a judge in Richmond Circuit Court issued a temporary injunction against the monument's removal, citing a lawsuit filed by William C. Gregory, who claims the Commonwealth promised to "faithfully guard" and "affectionately protect" the statue in the deed that originally annexed the property to the state. Subsequent legal proceedings led to a hearing on July 23, which concluded without a ruling on the monument's future. A new 90-day injunction against the monument's removal began August 3. After nearby residents filed a lawsuit to keep the statue in its place, Virginia's Attorney General filed a motion to dismiss the suit; circuit court Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled August 25, 2020 that the matter would proceed to trial. The October 19 trial resulted in a halted decision pending appeal.
On September 2, 2021 the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled unanimously in the two separate cases affirming the power of Governor Ralph Northam to order the statue removed from state-owned property.
Kudzu is an invasive vine introduced to the South in 1883 and became very difficult to control and tame. Artists have recently incorporated the vine into their responses to Confederate monuments, including Richmond's Lee Monument. A knitting collective known as the Kudzu Project has created knitted vines and tossed them on monuments. In 2019, the artist Aaron McIntosh created a full-scale installation of the Lee Monument overtaken by kudzu. Also in 2019, the Chicago-based artist Jenny Kendler, who grew up in Richmond, VA, displayed a proposal to 'bioremediate' Confederate monuments with kudzu at the DePaul Art Museum.
Following Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, the traffic circle where the statue stands was unofficially updated with a sign that reads "Welcome to Beautiful Marcus-David Peters Circle, Liberated by the People MMXX" : memorializing Marcus-David Peters, a Black man from Richmond who was shot and killed by the police in 2018. The area contained signs that told the story of Peters and milestones he missed since his death. The location is often used as protest site to remember all who have died from police brutality.
In the wake of protests, the graffiti-covered monument increasingly became a venue to portray images of racial justice and empowerment: from ballerinas dancing at the base of the plinth to video projections of George Floyd, Malcolm X, Angela Davis (and others) onto the statue itself. In October 2020 the graffiti-covered monument was deemed among the most influential American protest artworks since World War II by the New York Times.
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2006_VA_Richmond_Branch: VA -- Richmond -- Branch House (Branch Museum of Architecture and Design) (2 photos from 2006)
2021_VA_Richmond_Branch: VA -- Richmond -- Branch House (Branch Museum of Architecture and Design) (17 photos from 2021)
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1999 photos: Image quality is going to be pretty bad because these are scans of negatives and prints. They were usually taken on a Pentax ME-Super.
One of the things to look out for in this year include the Washington Monument in scaffolding. My vacations this year included a week in Gordonsville, VA as well as two weeks in Tennessee, which included attending my first Fan Fair country music festival.
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